Tuesday, 24 April 2012

East Coast Vacation part 1: Gyeongju & Bulguksa

part one - part two - part three

After each 7 week teaching session at my university I get treated to a week long holiday - a lovely perk of working at a university in Korea. A few months ago we decided we would go on a cycling trip, but that idea soon fizzled out because of my rusty old knee. I figured it probably wouldn't be the smartest idea to embark on a cycling tour. We chose to head to Gyeongju for the cherry blossoms instead, then take the bus up the east coast of Korea. (warning: if you're sick of cherry blossom photos, then this post isn't for you)

There are a few spots I wanted to check out, specifically the bizarre Haesindang Penis Park! I'd heard about this strange place a long time ago and since then I've been eager to check it out. I find these weird attractions in Korea fascinating, especially as they manage to exist in such a conservative society. Other spots on the list of places to visit were Gangneung Beach and Seoraksan. I first attempted to "climb" Seoraksan in 2008 but a night of drinking soju and singing in a noraebang scuppered that plan. A hideous hangover followed resulting in a decision to take the cable car up the mountain. I've always wanted to hike up that mountain properly. Now I would have my chance.


Our first port of call was Gyeongju, the capital of the Shilla Dynasty way back when. Gyeongju looks fantastic in the springtime as all the blossoms come into bloom. The only downside is that it also becomes total chaos as thousands of Korean tourists come to town in their vehicles to drive slowly down the many streets lined with cherry blossom trees. We didn't want to be a part of that chaos so we headed over on a Sunday afternoon with the plan to cycle around Gyeongju on the Monday when things would have calmed down.

Once we dropped our stuff off at our friends' house we headed over to 홍무로 (hongmu ro) to get a peek of the cherry blossoms lit up at night time. This street comes to a total stand still as soon as spring kicks in. In true Korean style people prefer to admire the blooms from inside their car rather than get out and take a walk.

Gyeongju Night Blossoms Gyeongju Night Blossoms Gyeongju Night Blossoms
We revisited this spot the next morning to check it out in the daytime but most of the blossoms had completely blown away.

Jenny does Usain Bolt
I'm not sure why Jenny decided to pose as Usain Bolt. Those mounds in the background are tombs, not the set to the Tellytubbies. They are EVERYWHERE in Gyeongju.

Tapgol (Bulmusa)

We got on our bikes and headed to Bulmusa temple. There's a hermitage there tucked up in the forest with some huge well preserved carvings of Buddha.

Tapgol Hermitage Tapgol Hermitage Tapgol Hermitage Tapgol Hermitage Tapgol Hermitage Tapgol Hermitage Tapgol Hermitage Tapgol Hermitage Tapgol Hermitage Tapgol Hermitage
Cherry Blossom confetti in the stream.

Gyeongju Gyeongju

After Bulmusa we jumped on our shitty rental bikes and cycled to Bulguksa Temple. Highway 7 goes directly there, but it is a really busy road with tons of trucks whizzing by. We cycled along the country roads that hug the east side of Namsan.

Gyeongju Gyeongju Gyeongju Gyeongju Gyeongju
Doing my best Asian pose.

Gyeongju Gyeongju Gyeongju Sublime Kimchi jjigae
This kimchi jjigae was bursting with flavour. I need to eat less Korean food because the salt content is through the roof. I'm starting to look like a dehydrated prune.
Grumpy distracted baby head.

Blossoms Blossoms
Blossoms Blossoms
Jenny had two obsessions during this trip: flowers and animals. She also demanded that I get her makeshift cycling gloves in shot. I've omitted my own photos of posing with flowers because I'd like to maintain an air of manliness (Oooooo, look at those magnolias!!!).


Bulguksa temple was heaving despite being a weekday. There were bus loads of old Koreans marching about all over the place, some of them well on their way into the realm of the drunk. Somehow I managed to take a few snaps which make the place seem far calmer than it really was.


Bulguksa Bulguksa Bulguksa Bulguksa Bulguksa Bulguksa
Jenny is a massive tree hugger.

Bulguksa Bulguksa
I like this photo because it looks like he has a robot for a torso.


On the way back to Gyeongju I totally wiped out on my rental bike whilst turning a corner on my rental bike. I hit a bump, lost my footing and tumbled off my bike, roly-polying then smashing my face against the curb. Bye Bye Casio Calculator watch.

I really pressed Jenny to get a photo of my bloody nose and hands. She had the camera ready, poised to take a snap, but then a car pulled over and a lady jumped out to help us clean up the mess. Pretty embarrassed by the whole thing she snuck the camera away out of sight. There she was taking photos of a wounded cyclist not making any efforts to help him out, or at least that's how it must have seemed to the lady in the car. Ha ha ha! She didn't even want to take any photos in the first place!

For some reason the good samaritan had dozens of wet wipes and gave me a good mothering, although it seemed to me she was more interested in cleaning my clothes up than any of my cuts and grazes. Nevermind infection Alasdair, you look like a tramp.

Big nose and broken phone
Maxi-pad bandage
We crafted a ghetto bandage from a woman's sanitary pad. By that I don't mean some random stranger's. "Excuse me darling. Whip out your maxi-pad will ya!"
We bought it from Family Mart, the pinnacle of Asian convenience.
Gyeongju Tombs Gyeongju Tombs Gyeongju Tombs road rash
Getting crusty!!!

part one - part two - part three


  1. Holy cow what a tumble! That smashed watch photo of you looks like someone completely different with your bulged out nose! Hey, did you see Sherwin & Family when you were in Gyeongju? Pippa and I were all around that region and we even went to Bulguksa as well! Been there, done that! Hope you heal my brutha!

  2. Bandaging with Maxi Pads! Now that's creativity.

    Enjoying your blog. Keep up the great work!